May 29th was a red letter day in the world of WOW when the international touring exhibition truly became international. The Perc Tucker Regional Gallery in Townsville, Australia was the first port of call outside of New Zealand for the WOW, World of WearableArt exhibit, and the first in what we hope will be a four or five year tour mostly in North America.
Shane Fitzgerald, the Director of the Perc Tucker Regional Gallery has been a follower of WOW for a number of years and he heard that there had been an exhibition touring New Zealand. Between 2012 and 2014 “Off the Wall” was seen by 315,000 people up and down the country in venues such as the Canterbury Museum, the Dunedin Art Gallery and Auckland War Memorial Museum. It was the success of this exhibition that encouraged us to take the next step to develop an exhibition for international audiences and take it overseas.
So when Shane contacted WOW what he did not know was that this exhibition was completely new. Also that the Perc Tucker Regional Gallery would be the very first venue on the international tour. Not only that, it is the ONLY venue in all of Australia to take it. Plenty of cause for celebration.
And to say that Perc Tucker and Townsville have celebrated WOW is an understatement. The exhibition has literally taken over the town. From the minute we arrived in Townsville we saw WOW everywhere. From posters at the airport baggage collection to street flags in the CBD, larger than life posters on the gallery itself and the front cover of local magazine DUO. It was quite incredible and very exciting to see how much effort had gone into making sure that everyone knew WOW was in town.
I travelled to Townsville with Dame Suzie Moncrieff, we were guests of the gallery and specifically Philip Bacon, a generous philanthropist who supports the gallery in many ways including with an annual Philip Bacon Lecture, which Suzie gave the day after the opening. We caught up with the WOW install team of talented garment technicians and exhibition designer who had been working closely with the staff of the Perc Tucker to present the exhibition in a way truly befitting WOW. And what a wonderful job they had done.
The Gallery itself is a two-story heritage building in the centre of the CBD and for the duration of the exhibition it is dedicated entirely to the WOW exhibition. Covering both floors the three sections of the exhibition are displayed beautifully. Firstly, the garments themselves, displayed on a mix of plinths and large round wall frames. The nature of the display allows visitors to get right up close to each garment to see first-hand the incredible workmanship and craft that has gone into creating the beautiful pieces of wearable art. Secondly there is the Audio Visual presentation. Installed in a corner room of the gallery this has been set up to project simultaneously on three walls of the room. This gives viewer an immersive experience of WOW. Sometimes full of multiple images and sometimes a single focus, the video is as close to the live performance as possible and certainly gives a feel for what audiences of the Awards Show can experience.
Finally there is the workroom. This is an interactive space where visitors can try their hand at making a piece of wearable art, creating a lighting design for a WOW stage set and get more information on designers and the WOW team on a series of touch screens. People love this area and over the course of the exhibition the collage of wearable art creations becomes an installation in its own right.
But back to the reason we travelled to Townsville – the opening. This was a wonderful event which started with a viewing of the exhibition by a small number of invited guests. Three WOW models wearing garments by Australian designers mingled with the crowd and many photos were posted to Instagram. After the private viewing the official proceedings began. The street outside of the gallery was closed off – video screens, a stage for a live band and a bar were set up. And the joy of a Northern Queensland winter – the weather was absolutely lovely.
Speeches were made including one by our very own Dame Suzie flanked by the WOW models and once the exhibition was officially opened the crowds flooded in. Over 900 people went through the exhibition in the first two hours, an astonishing number and great support from this Northern Queensland town. The opening was also attended by three WOW designers who had made the journey from Brisbane, Svenja, Erica Gray and Jessica Thompson and it was wonderful to see them there enjoying WOW in their own country.
It is very exciting to see this exhibition finally start its tour and while we will be taking it to a number of great venues, the opening at Perc Tucker will always be memorable. Not only for being the first but for being the place where WOW took over the town.
The exhibition closes at the Perc Tcuker Regional Gallery on July 12th. It then opens at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii on October 3rd before moving on to the EMP Museum in Seattle in March 2016 where it will remain for six months.